Martin acoustic intonation issue
rectifier
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#1
25th November 2006
Old 25th November 2006
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Martin acoustic intonation issue

hey gang,

well I have 2 Martin acoustics that on some days I truly love but on other days I dislike them so much that I have to put them down and go play piano instead (badly). I have them both set up by a pretty well reputed luthier but I still always have intonation issues.

If i play an open E chord in the ye olde guitar learny way and everything is in tune, then go to play an open A chord in the same fashion, the A chord sounds out of tune around the B, G strings. If I correct the B and the G to play that open A chord, the E chord is horribly out of tune with itself. The main guitar I use on which this happens is a Martin HD-28, the other, which I use less, is a Martin D-15.

'But all guitars are out of tune/slightly non intonated, its only natural' I hear people say when I tell them this. Well this is too out of tune! On some days it seems ok, then on others it's much worse. Now then other thing is.. I'm not sure if I'm going mad but sometimes my electric guitars seem to do the same. The luthier I spoke to said it might be that my ears are too fussy and for some people the intonation can affect them as they can hear every little slightly out of pitch note and the effect is amplified to a certain extent..

Ok let's forget about the electric having this effect for now and put it down to temporary -it's all in your mind, the guitar is in tune- and back to the acoustics, should I - change luthier? Is this normal for Martins? I've never been 100% happy with the guitar (I.. ordered it I'm afraid to say) but it sounds so sweet on a good day. I'm fed up of seeing people play cheap smasharound guitars and not having this issue.

Thoughts? Anyone else experienced this?

thanks
#2
26th November 2006
Old 26th November 2006
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One other issue is the string gauge. If you play light strings, they're super easy to bend. In some cases, so easy that you bend them simply by chording.

And although it's true that the B and G string's are never perfect and some guitars are even compensated at the 3rd fret where most of this intonation problem exists. It's rare that the E sounds good and the A doesn't. Usually it's E to D. One other method is try tuning the guitar with octaves. 3rd fret A string to 1st fret B string. Or open D string to 3rd fret B.

Luthier is also in most cases a self proclaimed title. Most of them are carpenters and get into guitar building. I only know one actual luthier.
#3
26th November 2006
Old 26th November 2006
  #3
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The questions you are asking indicates to me that you are a beginner. So first find someone who is experienced with guitar and have them try it out. If they agree with you, find another luthier. This is not a problem typical to Martins.

Either the saddle or bridge may need to be reworked or replaced, the bridge may be loose, you may have a couple bad tuning machines - who knows.

I suspect that your "reputable luthier" is not that good but get another expert opinion from a guitarist first.

Jim
rectifier
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26th November 2006
Old 26th November 2006
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Actually i've been playing for 20 years (and used to teach) and have 6 very good guitars but I just had this issue with these 2 in the last year or two. The strings are medium. There was a nice '10 or 20 great tips' thread on GS once that showed how to tune up a guitar using a special non standard technique, I'll give that a go. Was just posting to see if anyone had heard of similar with similar guitars to mine, but it seems not. The bridge on the d-15 was modded to bone and was ok after the mod.

I'll check it out with another luthier, although I'm pretty sure this one is one of the best in the country I live in.

thanks guys!
#5
26th November 2006
Old 26th November 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rectifier View Post
hey gang,

well I have 2 Martin acoustics that on some days I truly love but on other days I dislike them so much that I have to put them down and go play piano instead (badly). I have them both set up by a pretty well reputed luthier but I still always have intonation issues.

If i play an open E chord in the ye olde guitar learny way and everything is in tune, then go to play an open A chord in the same fashion, the A chord sounds out of tune around the B, G strings. If I correct the B and the G to play that open A chord, the E chord is horribly out of tune with itself. The main guitar I use on which this happens is a Martin HD-28, the other, which I use less, is a Martin D-15.

'But all guitars are out of tune/slightly non intonated, its only natural' I hear people say when I tell them this. Well this is too out of tune! On some days it seems ok, then on others it's much worse. Now then other thing is.. I'm not sure if I'm going mad but sometimes my electric guitars seem to do the same. The luthier I spoke to said it might be that my ears are too fussy and for some people the intonation can affect them as they can hear every little slightly out of pitch note and the effect is amplified to a certain extent..

Ok let's forget about the electric having this effect for now and put it down to temporary -it's all in your mind, the guitar is in tune- and back to the acoustics, should I - change luthier? Is this normal for Martins? I've never been 100% happy with the guitar (I.. ordered it I'm afraid to say) but it sounds so sweet on a good day. I'm fed up of seeing people play cheap smasharound guitars and not having this issue.

Thoughts? Anyone else experienced this?

thanks
Because of humidity and various other factors your neck could well be moving around. As your neck bows in or out the intonation is changing because of length is changing.
I notice as a general rule in the summer I have to loosen trussrods, and the winter it's usually time to tighten them up.
Getting your guitar setup right is critical, have you checked your intonation yourself with a tuner? But if you find that say an open E chord in first position is in tune and an open A or D is not I would also take a real look at 2 other things, one how high is the action, two your technique. If your action is so high you really have to push down to get notes out then that will screw with the tuning. Also take a real look at how your fretting. I had a guy in here 2 days ago who kept checking his tuning and kept playing out of tune. I watched him push the strings up towards the top of the fingerboard, so of course he was out of tune.
#6
26th November 2006
Old 26th November 2006
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take the martins to the doctors:


peekamouse :

telephone: 212-869-2396


paul & hawley are like gods for all guitars - ask for one of them


251 west 30 street
between 7th and 8th

my martin and my lowden just had set-ups......
they are so beautiful to play right now.....



be well


- jack
#7
26th November 2006
Old 26th November 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rectifier View Post
Actually i've been playing for 20 years (and used to teach) and have 6 very good guitars but I just had this issue with these 2 in the last year or two. The strings are medium. There was a nice '10 or 20 great tips' thread on GS once that showed how to tune up a guitar using a special non standard technique, I'll give that a go. Was just posting to see if anyone had heard of similar with similar guitars to mine, but it seems not. The bridge on the d-15 was modded to bone and was ok after the mod.

I'll check it out with another luthier, although I'm pretty sure this one is one of the best in the country I live in.

thanks guys!
Sorry to insult you! My mistake.

I'm wondering if possibly your problem guitar is second hand and it had been set up with the Buzzy Feiten system of intonation. Probably not.

I just reread your post and you seem to suggest that the intonation problem happens only on certain days. This would indicate that things are being thrown out of whack from humidity changes. I would think that if that is the case the neck may be either twisting slightly or the set of the neck is changing from the top collapsing. In other words, the string height changes (raises).

A truss rod adjustment may fix either of these problems.

Jim
rectifier
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#8
28th November 2006
Old 28th November 2006
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Thread Starter
I think it's definitely humidity/neck related. I'm going to try and find someone local who can look at the neck - the other luthier was a looong drive away so always put it off after the first time. No offence taken runa, was funny!

Thanks for all your replies, I'll try and update this thread when I get the issue sorted out and let you know what the culprit was.
#9
20th December 2006
Old 20th December 2006
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#10
28th December 2006
Old 28th December 2006
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definately humidity thing... It happens to all guitars, but I have noticed that my nicer martins(d-35, hd-28) have the problem more. I'm not a great guitar tech so i didn't really notice what was going on. I would pick them up and they sounded like pure shit. I finally took them to my road tech before we had a few out of town shows last year. He clearly pointed out that the bridge was rising because of the humidity.

He had bought (de)humidifiers for all our guitars. No one really kept them in. But sure enough after I couldn't play alot of my guitars, I started using them regulalrly and it made the biggest difference in the world
#11
14th March 2007
Old 14th March 2007
  #11
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I had a Martin DM which was a freak. It would easily compete with any D28 out there for shear cannon output but had great clarity and definition as well. I also had some issues with it's intonation. I sought out a Luthier and got very fortunate to run into a guy by the name of Tim Gonzolez (known as Gonzo). He has a website called "gonzoguitars". He is one hell of a luthier and is able to take a poorly intonated guitar and make a custom bridge saddle that completely compensates for all aspects of the intonation across the board. I also had him make a new bone nut as well. That sucker came back to me playing like butter and in tune all over the fretboard. This guy does wonderful work and is very fussy, which I like. You may wish to consult with him sometime. He is in Salt Lake City, Utah. If you want it done perfect the first time he's your man. Does refretting and the whole bit if you need it.
#12
15th March 2007
Old 15th March 2007
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I didn't think most Martins had truss rods. So God alone knows what I ought to suggest here, apart from all that other stuff about new strings, reasonably thick ones, durable ones (probably not silk-steel), GOOD ones, plus humidity regulation (both ways)...

Are you sure the neck isn't twisted? I guess you've done the old thing of looking down it like a railroad. All the sleepers need to be in line...
#13
17th March 2007
Old 17th March 2007
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I have a similar problem with my 1972 D35 ...
#14
17th March 2007
Old 17th March 2007
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intontation problem

It's likely the nut needs filed. Lots of acoustics are a bit high at the nut or have uneven string height at the nut. Of my high end acoustics, my Martin would not have the best intonation, but the problem you descibe wouldn't be an issue.
With clients, I see a few that simply bear down too hard on the strings.
Best Regards,
Gary
#15
17th March 2007
Old 17th March 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by runamuck View Post

I'm wondering if possibly your problem guitar is second hand and it had been set up with the Buzzy Feiten system of intonation. Probably not.
Bingo.



I don't remember exactly what the explanation is but it's something like this: you know how if you pull on the string near the nut, there's more tension than in the middle? This causes a guitar intonnated at the twelfth fret to play sharp down near the nut.

The Buzz Feiten compensates for that. Works great. Worth doing.

Iain's link about just vs. even temperament is good reading, too. The point is that it's physically impossible to actually get a guitar in tune with itself everywhere on the neck. It's just the way the math works out.
#16
17th March 2007
Old 17th March 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by woomanmoomin View Post
I didn't think most Martins had truss rods.
Martin introduced the T-bar truss rod in 1934.

But they were not adjustable for a long time; that's why people think they don't have 'em. There's no cover or screw/bolt to be seen.
rectifier
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#17
20th September 2007
Old 20th September 2007
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Just reading over this again - was really nice of everyone to chime in here to try and help and lots of good info in there.

6 months on and the problem has gone. The main changes I have made are and I'm a bit embarrassed to have to admit this after saying I wasn't a guitar noob is that I improved my actual stringing technique of an acoustic instrument. This made things a bit more bearable BUT the other thing that really sorted the whole issue out sadly was to move away from using medium strings to lighter. I always thought medium gauged acoustic strings would give me the best sound and only used those. The truth is that medium on my acoustics is pushing on too tight in standard 440 tuning - to the point where the g string was almost breaking. This might seem odd and is perhaps something I will address in the future with a luthier but I'm playing a full 2 semi tones down if I try that so a standard d,g,c,f,a,d tuning.

The HD28 5 years after buying and letting it breathe and open up is starting to sound really fantastic and the D-15.. well I just love that lil guitar, it's so underrated, a real pleasure to use (bone bridge made it 1289734 times better as i said previously)..

Still would like a good acoustic Gibson though .. lol.
#18
21st September 2007
Old 21st September 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rectifier View Post
Just reading over this again - was really nice of everyone to chime in here to try and help and lots of good info in there.

6 months on and the problem has gone. The main changes I have made are and I'm a bit embarrassed to have to admit this after saying I wasn't a guitar noob is that I improved my actual stringing technique of an acoustic instrument. This made things a bit more bearable BUT the other thing that really sorted the whole issue out sadly was to move away from using medium strings to lighter. I always thought medium gauged acoustic strings would give me the best sound and only used those. The truth is that medium on my acoustics is pushing on too tight in standard 440 tuning - to the point where the g string was almost breaking. This might seem odd and is perhaps something I will address in the future with a luthier but I'm playing a full 2 semi tones down if I try that so a standard d,g,c,f,a,d tuning.

The HD28 5 years after buying and letting it breathe and open up is starting to sound really fantastic and the D-15.. well I just love that lil guitar, it's so underrated, a real pleasure to use (bone bridge made it 1289734 times better as i said previously)..

Still would like a good acoustic Gibson though .. lol.
Yeah, there's a lot to it. Sometimes it seems every guitar I own has it's own technique.
#19
2nd February 2011
Old 2nd February 2011
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I have a Martin D28 reissue and it has problems with intonation. I've had it worked on several times. I hear Martins have had their intonation problems. The tone is so great it's hard to get rid of it.
rectifier
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#20
9th February 2011
Old 9th February 2011
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TnMike - yea I guess they are. I'm still having issues with mine (even after the semi euphoric previous post) to the point where I am now going to get something else I think. Maybe I got a lemon, who knows but the sound is not right for me either so I will be able to let it go for something else - time to make a new post.

edit: Nah I'm keeping it, dunno what I was thinking. Just need to get it looked at again.
#21
9th February 2011
Old 9th February 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dcisive View Post
I had a Martin DM which was a freak. It would easily compete with any D28 out there for shear cannon output but had great clarity and definition as well. I also had some issues with it's intonation. I sought out a Luthier and got very fortunate to run into a guy by the name of Tim Gonzolez (known as Gonzo). He has a website called "gonzoguitars". He is one hell of a luthier and is able to take a poorly intonated guitar and make a custom bridge saddle that completely compensates for all aspects of the intonation across the board. I also had him make a new bone nut as well. That sucker came back to me playing like butter and in tune all over the fretboard. This guy does wonderful work and is very fussy, which I like. You may wish to consult with him sometime. He is in Salt Lake City, Utah. If you want it done perfect the first time he's your man. Does refretting and the whole bit if you need it.
I don't know how much of a fluke it is, I also have a DM, and it's phenominal. I looked casually for "the one" over a few year period, and no acoustic cheap or expensive did "everything" well. Tone, playability, dynamics...I'd get 1 or 2 of these things, but would lack in another...however after only getting luck in the $2-3K range I walked into a local GC, and found the DM on consignment for $350. I scrambled to sell several items quickly to buy it, and walked out with it 24 hours later.

However, last winter it started giving me intonation issues too. I think it was humidity becasue the fretboard looked funny where it met the neck...I tried adjusting a few things but it didn't fix it...also had a few high frets that restricted playing the high e and b between the 3rd and 11th fret.

Went to a daddario bluegrass set for it, and the guitar was fine again...

It's great now, I don't know if the strings fixed it, or the humidity...I don't care, it's just great and I'm not messing with it!!!
#22
15th April 2011
Old 15th April 2011
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Just about everybody is wrong in this thread. (oops - just saw someone linked something similar above)

In a chromatic scale, we think in terms of steps and half steps - but in reality, this is not entirely accurate. In short, intonation is not linear.

And of all people: Steve Vai explains in a little more detail here:

Steve Vai & True Temperment: A new type of guitar fretboard? | Dolphin Music
#23
15th April 2011
Old 15th April 2011
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Another thing to have your repair guy do is a fret level. Many production run guitars come off the line with varying fret heights. This can cause the problem you're talking about. My guy does one on every guitar I bring him...so far about 70% of those were pretty irregular.
L.
#24
30th June 2011
Old 30th June 2011
  #24
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Play harder and faster.
#25
12th July 2011
Old 12th July 2011
  #25
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I've been told by a respected repairman in my city that certain year Martins had the saddle improperly placed. This could be your problem; there are so many factors that come into play with acoustic instruments. Find a PRO tech, they'll be able to get that thin playing perfectly for you.
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